Man of the forest: Orangutan

Female Orangutan Sumatra (Pongo abelii), Indonesia, Southeast Asia
Female Orangutan Sumatra (Pongo abelii), Indonesia, Southeast Asia

The name orangutan (Pongo abelii, Pongo pygmaeus) means “man of the forest” in the Malay language. In the lowland forests in which they reside, orangutans live solitary existences. They feast on wild fruits like lychees, mangosteens, and figs, and slurp water from holes in trees.

Orangutans are great apes native to the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia. They are now found only in parts of Borneo and Sumatra, but during the Pleistocene they ranged throughout Southeast Asia and South China.


Orangutans are mainly arboreal and inhabit tropical rainforest, particularly lowland dipterocarp and old secondary forest. Populations are more concentrated near riverside habitats, such as freshwater and peat swamp forest, while drier forests away from the flooded areas have less apes. Population density also decreases at higher elevations. Orangutans occasionally enter grasslands, cultivated fields, gardens, young secondary forest, and shallow lakes.


The social structure of the orangutan can be best described as solitary but social; they live a more solitary lifestyle than the other great apes. Bornean orangutans are generally more solitary than Sumatran orangutans. Most social bonds occur between adult females and their dependent and weaned offspring. Resident females live with their offspring in defined home ranges that overlap with those of other adult females, which may be their immediate relatives.


Orangutans are primarily fruit-eaters, which can take up 57–80% of their foraging time. Even during times of scarcity, fruit is 16% of their feeding time. Fruits with soft pulp, arils or seed-walls are consumed the most, particularly figs but also drupes and berries. However, orangutans will opportunistically subsidise their diet with meat when it is easily obtainable.


  • Name: Orangutan
  • Scientific NamePongo abelii, Pongo pygmaeus
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Lifespan: 50 years
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Habitat: Tropical rainforests



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